Suspected hoodlums on Monday unleashed a spate of violent attacks on the Independent National Electoral Commission building in Owerri, Imo State and the Peoples Democratic Party campaign office in Gombe State, razing the two facilities and further heightening anxiety about the conduct of the 2023 general elections.

This was even as the Nigerian Air Force bombed terrorists’ hideouts in the three Local Government Areas of Birnin-Gwari, Igabi and Chikun of Kaduna State, killing scores of the hoodlums.

The operation, it was learnt, was aimed at clearing the areas of the criminals ahead of the forthcoming polls.

During the Monday assault on the INEC office, the police killed three of the attackers while one police officer died and another one sustained injuries.

The PUNCH reports that this was the third attack on the commission’s facilities in the state in less than two weeks.

Unknown persons had earlier attacked the electoral body’s facilities in the Orlu Local Government Area on December 1 and in the Oru West LGA on December 4.

Suspected hoodlums had similarly torched the commission’s offices in Ebonyi, Osun and Ogun states within the past few weeks, sparking fears that some people were plotting to derail the conduct of the 2023 elections.

The spokesperson for the Imo State Police Command, Michael Abattam, who spoke at the command headquarters in Owerri, where the lifeless bodies of the hoodlums were paraded, said five rifles, two vehicles, charms, locally-made bombs, phones and money were recovered from the slain gunmen.

 He also confirmed the death of a cop and the injuries to another operative.

Abattam said, “They (gunmen) attacked the INEC headquarters in Owerri around 3am. They threw bombs at the roof of the INEC building but unfortunately for them, they were resisted by our men who were guarding the place. They came in four vehicles and were fully armed.

“While they engaged our men on the ground we reinforced. Noticing that we were stronger, they ran away abandoning one of their vehicles. We gave them a hot chase towards Onitsha Road. Fortunately, we neutralised three of them.

‘’Others escaped with bullet wound injuries. Unfortunately, one of our men paid the supreme price. Another one was injured. We recovered two vehicles. We also recovered five rifles, charms, locally-made explosives, phones, money and other exhibits.”

Briefing the Imo State Governor, Hope Uzodinma, at the police headquarters, the state Commissioner of Police, Muhammed Berde, said three of the attackers were killed while two were caught alive.

Uzodinma suspects politicians

Reacting to the development, Uzodinma declared that the development proved that the insecurity in the state was politically contrived.

The governor, who accused unnamed politicians of heightening insecurity in the state, said he was happy that the security agents were able to overpower the criminals.

According to him, some politicians in the state wished to win elections without going through the electioneering processes.

The governor said, “This is further proof that the insecurity in Imo State is politically contrived. In Imo State, you have politicians who want to win elections without going through the electioneering processes.

‘’But I am happy with what the police and other security agents have done. We will continue to support them to do their work better. I want to assure Imo people to come home and celebrate Christmas as Imo is safe. The security agents are on top of the situation and ready to provide adequate security, before, during and after the Christmas season.”

Bemoaning the serial violence against its offices, INEC National Commissioner and Chairman, Information and Voter Education Committee, Festus Okoye, described the incident as yet another systematic attack targeted at the commission’s assets.

In a statement a few hours after the attack, Okoye also noted that the incident happened on the day of the commencement of Permanent Voter Cards collection by registered voters ahead of the 2023 general elections.

It read, “The Resident Electoral Commissioner for Imo State, Prof. Sylvia Agu, has reported that our state headquarters office in Owerri was attacked by unknown gunmen. The incident occurred at about 3.00am today Monday, 12th December 2022.

“The attack affected the part of the building occupied by the Election and Party Monitoring Department and one official utility vehicle (a Toyota Hilux pickup van) was burnt.

“The response of the security and emergency services (the fire service) curtailed further damage to the building and other assets of the commission. No critical election materials were destroyed. There were also no casualties involving staff of the commission.

“This is the third attack on the commission’s facilities in Imo State in less than two weeks following the earlier attacks on our Orlu LGA office on Thursday 1st December, 2022, and Oru West LGA office on Sunday 4th December 2022.

“This is therefore yet another systematic attack targeted at the commission’s assets across the country, more so on the day that the collection of Permanent Voter Cards commences nationwide ahead of the 2023 general elections.”

Gombe attack

Meanwhile, suspected thugs have set ablaze a campaign office of the governorship candidate of the PDP in Gombe State, Mohammed Barde.

The office was reportedly attacked on Monday morning.

The state police commissioner, Mahid Abubakar, confirmed the attack, adding that investigations were underway.

“You have seen the pictures; yes the attack happened and we will get full details before going public,” he said.

In a statement denouncing the attack, the Deputy Director-General of media, Atiku/Barde Campaign Council, Junaidu Abubakar, said several properties were destroyed, adding that members of the All Progressives Congress were to blame.

Abubakar said, “There was an attack on the building housing the Barde Campaign Organisation in the early hours of today (Monday) by political thugs, suspected to be that of the sinking APC, setting ablaze the building and destroying properties.

“The cowardly attack on this edifice, one of many in the last months further affirmed the present government’s stand on violence and destruction, a threat to the fragile peace of the state, which must vehemently be rejected by all and sundry.’’

The council said Barde had on different occasions rejected violence and political thuggery, stressing the need to engage the resourceful Gombe youths in a meaningful pursuit.

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“The good people of Gombe State are hereby prompted to reject this act of oppression on the ballot come 2023. The Barde Agenda rests on securing the lives and properties of the people, equal opportunities for the youth and women, rapid infrastructural development and providing a level playing ground for the opposition devoid of any undue oppression,’’ the statement added.

Troops invade community

Troops of the Nigerian Army have reportedly invaded Obeagu community in the Ishielu Local Government Area of Ebonyi State.

The soldiers allegedly killed one person and arrested five residents accused of being members of the outlawed Indigenous People of Biafra.

Three of those taken away were said to be members of the vigilante group set up to protect the community from armed herdsmen who had attacked the community on several occasions killing no fewer than 22 persons.

Community leaders said the troops who invaded the community around 5am, were shooting sporadically and allegedly burned seven houses before taking away five residents accused of being IPOB members.

The soldiers numbering over 60 were said to have entered the community in 10 Hilux vehicles and seven armoured tanks.

Following the development, it was gathered that more than half of the residents fled to the neighbouring communities of Owoh, Ubahu and Amankanu in the Nkanu East Local Government Area of Enugu State.

Confirming the development, a community leader and immediate past councillor said, “We were woken up this morning by military gunshots. As I am speaking, everybody is on the run. Soldiers are shooting in all the communities. All the Eha-Amufu people that ran to our community after Fulani herdsmen sacked them are also on the run alongside the residents.”

Another resident, Ogbuabor Sunday, told our correspondent that they were observing the morning Catholic Mass when the soldiers rolled in their tanks.

“I was in the church this early morning around 5:30am when military vehicles numbering over 30 including armoured tanks rolled into the community. Shortly after, they started shooting sporadically. None of the people who came to church this morning had gone home. I am answering this call inside the bush,” Ogbuabor told The PUNCH on the telephone.

However, our correspondent gathered that the soldiers were asking some women and aged people about the location of the IPOB camps in the community.

The Deputy Director, Army Public Relations, 82 Division, Major Jonathan Unuakhalu, could not be reached for comments as he did not respond to calls. He had yet to respond to the text message sent to his phone as of the time of filing this report.

In a related incident, residents of Abakaliki on Monday ran for dear lives when gunmen suspected to be IPOB members invaded the Ebonyi State capital.

Markets, banks and filling stations hurriedly shut down as sounds of gunshots rend the air.

The gunmen, who reportedly wore masks, razed a section of the Ahia Ofu market located along the Abakaliki-Enugu highway.

The action of the group was said to be part of the enforcement of the five days sit-at-home order declared in the South-East region.

NAF bombs terrorists

Also on Monday, the Nigerian Air Force bombed terrorists’ hideouts in three Local Government Areas of Birnin-Gwari, Igabi and Chikun of Kaduna State, killing scores of the hoodlums.

The state Commissioner for Internal Security and Home Affairs, Samuel Aruwan, said the state government received the news of the serial bombardments of the criminals with excitement.

Aruwan added that in one of the aerial attacks with support from the ground troops, a notorious bandits leader simply known as Alhaji Lawan was killed and his camp destroyed.

The commissioner, in a statement said, “In continuation of aerial patrols across Kaduna State, the Nigerian Air Force has reported that several bandits were neutralized and camps destroyed in the latest round of operations.

“According to the feedback to the Kaduna State Government, aerial patrols identified and attacked an active location in Kasarami general area in Chikun LGA.

“A bandits’ camp was similarly struck with rockets and destroyed at Kofita and Kuyanbana Forest in Birnin Gwari LGA. Camps were also targeted and destroyed at Kuduru and Gonan Baturiya, and terrorists were neutralized about 4km west of Nabango.

“While conducting armed surveillance around Karshi, Kerawa and Walawa axes of Igabi and Giwa LGAs, bandits were sighted nearly 6km southwest of Kerawa and promptly neutralized.

“Close air support was provided to troops conducting clearance operations around Ligarma, Igabi LGA. During this mission, the house of a notorious bandit leader, Alhaji Lawan, was attacked and destroyed with rockets. The crews maintained a presence overhead as the ground troops cleared terrorists’ enclaves in the area.

“The Kaduna State Government received the report with thanks and warmly commended the crews and personnel for the sustained effectiveness of the operations. Ground and air patrols will continue in these and other general areas.”

 He further revealed that armed reconnaissance was conducted along the Kaduna-Abuja road and rail lines, with no suspicious activity observed.

Fire at DHQ

There was a fire outbreak at the Defence Headquarters in Abuja on Monday.

The fire was said to have occurred on the second floor of the DHQ complex.

It was gathered that personnel of the Federal Fire Service and military personnel put out the fire whose cause had yet to be ascertained.

The Director, Defence Information, Major General Jimmy Akpor, said the fire was speedily brought under control, adding that the staff were safely evacuated.

He said, “A minor fire incident occurred on the second floor of the Defence Headquarters, Garki Abuja this afternoon 12 December 2022. The cause of the fire outbreak is unknown at this moment.

“However, the incident has been brought under control with the combined effort of the military and Federal Fire Service personnel and resources. All personnel and civilian staff were also evacuated without injury or loss of life. Accordingly, normalcy has returned. Investigation to determine the cause of the fire incident has commenced immediately.’’